On Term Limits

I sympathize with many fellow conservatives who are trumpeting a constitutional amendment proposal to cap terms of U.S. Senators at two terms, but this is down right bad policy, and understanding why requires a look into the design of the Senate.

Per Article 1, Sec. 3 of the Constitution, Senators serve staggered 6 year terms. The reason for this is to protect against sudden movements that may not be in our best long-term interest. Popular ideas are not always good ones, but when the public grabs hold of a concept that it believes to be virtuous (say, healthcare… cap and trade…) it sometimes takes a few years of debating an issue before reason overcomes passion and a bill is dropped from the docket. By staggering terms we are given an additional line of defense from such bad ideas by only allowing the public to vote in 1/3 of the Senate on any given election. The wheels of change that turn slowly are those that result in better policy. Some of today’s Senators have been working on public policy for twenty or thirty years. They’ve stood the test of time and remained a favorite among their constituents. Newcomers often ride in on a wave of change that is short lived. Since Senatorial elections are every two years, limiting them to two terms means an entirely different Senate every 16 years. Anyone that entered the chamber before 1997 would already be gone.

Allowing politicians to serve multiple terms allows them to gain experience and understanding. It also discourages new congressmen from entering with a grand agenda that they can push through within a couple of years. Sure, they will have an agenda, but the current system makes it very difficult for them to accomplish anything until they’ve “paid their dues.” If congressmen are limited to 8 or 12 years in the House or Senate, respectively, pushing through a list of bills in the first term will be status quo, and as a gesture of good politics, every member would be expected to support every other member’s bill, because there’s just not enough time to bicker, and if you want help with your agenda you’d better find a log and start rolling. As busy as congress is today, it would be a picnic compared to the utter chaos that would exist under such a pressured system.

To those who decry the current system of corrupted professional politicians, you should remember that there is already a way to boot out those we don’t like – they call it “voting.” A novel idea really. “But,” you say, “incumbents get so many benefits, like free mailers, better financial backing and way more name recognition, they’re almost sure to win.” Okay, then I suppose you should work a little harder to support the challenging candidate. Can we try to make it a little easier for up-and-comers? Probably – and perhaps giving members of every generation a decent shot is a commendable cause that deserves attention. But do we need to make it impossible for people to run after only two terms? No, that’s ridiculous. Ron Paul supporters who champion plans like this forget that their lead man would have been term-limited out long ago. The point is, some we like, some we don’t – but we get the choice over which one’s stay or go. That’s liberty!

 

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